This has been an unsettling week. Who will forget the look on that one Charlottesville marcher’s face, a terrible echo of the hate seen on other faces as Hitler rose to power in Germany and blacks began to win their basic civil rights in America? One of this week’s posts on Storyboard, about a reporter deciding to reveal her childhood sexual abuse, is also painful. The challenges of life continue as a theme in another post, as we look at the tough career path of a longform freelancer. Even E.B. White, for God’s sake, offers a tinge of sadness in his One Great Sentence. Here’s to easier weeks ahead for all of us.
Pat Beall and “Sexually abused as a child: A Post reporter’s journey to finding hope.” Pat Beall is an award-winning investigative journalist, comfortable with FOIAs and spreadsheets. But earlier this year, contributor Scott Gold writes, “she took a sharp turn. She not only jumped into the world of first-person writing, she made the decision to bare the depths of her soul and write about the sexual abuse she suffered as a child. The result was one of the bravest and most powerful pieces of journalism I have encountered in a long time.” This response from Beall about her family’s reaction to the piece is heartbreaking: “The most difficult response came from an older family member, who cried when I told her what I would be writing. She wasn’t crying for me. She had been abused when she was 5. She had never told anyone. And she was in her 70s. She had spent all those decades, alone.”
The soundtrack: “Suffer Little Children,” by the Smiths. This song is about the “Moors Murderers” of children in northern England in the middle of the last century. It’s told from the perspective of the dead children, and it suggests the pain of all children abused by predator adults.
One Great Sentence
“Even on the most beautiful days in the whole year – the days when summer is changing into autumn – the crickets spread the rumor of sadness and change.”
E.B. White, “Charlotte’s Web.”
Read why we think it’s great.
Andy Kopsa and the slow payoff of freelance longform work. I want to spotlight the life of freelance journalists more on Storyboard. As staffs of newspapers and magazines shrink, freelancers are often the ones carrying the longform banner. It takes bravery to go that route. Here, Andy Kopsa talks about the difficulties: “Especially right now, for a freelancer, it’s tough. The only reason I’ve been able to do it thus far is because I’ve been at it for a long time. Networking is incredibly important for me — whether it’s a Facebook group or listserv. We’re living in an environment where it’s a buyers’ market for freelancers, and some publications know they can get away with paying practically nothing for short pieces.”
The soundtrack: “She Works Hard for the Money,” by Donna Summer. I had forgotten how cheesy-’80s (think “Flashdance”) the keyboards are in this song. But it’s a mini-narrative, about a woman who’s seen a lot of tears on the job. Maybe this fits the longform freelancer life? “It’s a sacrifice working day to day/ For little money, just tips for pay/But it’s worth it all/To hear them say that they care.”
What I’m reading online: “The Rise of the Valkyries.” This Harper’s article by Seward Darby is a tough read. I almost couldn’t finish it, but it’s an important piece. Darby profiles a leading woman in the white nationalist movement, Lana Lokteff. At the start of the story, Lokteff offers the chilling theme of the piece: “When women get involved,” she declared, “a movement becomes a serious threat.”
“The TV That Created Donald Trump.” In this piece for The New Yorker, Emily Nussbaum watches Donald Trump’s reality-TV persona for clues of what he has become as president. This vignette, a scene from “The Apprentice,” stands out. She quotes Trump saying: “Nobody takes things more personally than me. When somebody says something personal about me, I hate them for the rest of my life. It’s probably wrong, but I hate people.” He pauses. “Do you understand that? I hate ’em. . . . I never recover from it.” Then she writes: “It’s a villain’s speech—and a glimpse of a darker Trump. In response, everybody laughs. Those are the boardroom rules.”
“Total Eclipse,” by Annie Dillard. In its way, this stunning 1982 essay by the writer is just as disturbing as the previous two stories. In it, she witnesses totality, and is shattered by it. She writes: “Seeing this black body was like seeing a mushroom cloud. The heart screeched. The meaning of the sight overwhelmed its fascination. It obliterated meaning itself. If you were to glance out one day and see a row of mushroom clouds rising on the horizon, you would know at once that what you were seeing, remarkable as it was, was intrinsically not worth remarking. No use running to tell anyone. Significant as it was, it did not matter a whit. For what is significance? It is significance for people. No people, no significance.”
What’s on my bedside table: “Save Me the Waltz,” by Zelda Fitzgerald. “Whatever the merits or demerits of Mrs. Fitzgerald’s book, it is a literary curio.” When I read the introductory remarks by Henry T. Moore about this book by one of the more famous literary wives in American history, I felt umbrage; it seemed like condescending mansplaining. But then I read this line from The New York Times review of the book: “It is not only that her publishers have not seen fit to curb an almost ludicrous lushness of writing but they have not given the book the elementary services of a literate proofreader.” And then I tried to read it. Emphasis on the word “tried.”
What’s on my turntable: “Keep the Dream Alive,” a benefit concert for the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Social Change. It seemed like a good week to play this album, recorded at the Omni in Atlanta, released in 1973 and starring Wilson Pickett, the Main Ingredient (wonderful), the Jimmy Castor Bunch (new to me), Linda Hopkins, Jose Feliciano and comedian Flip Wilson. Coretta Scott King opens the concert, and has a note on the back thanking RCA Records. This line resonates today: “Through your exemplary contribution to the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Social Change you have not only advanced the cause of human justice and brotherhood, but you have provided a glowing example of social responsibility for other business corporations.”
If you want to chat about storytelling (or music), I’m Storyboard editor Kari Howard, and you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can find me at @karihow on Twitter.